One of the things that brought my wife Hannah and I together as a couple is a shared vision of community and sustainable living, and a desire to work for social justice and community power. But, as Hannah’s mother likes to ask, “what is community?”
In 2010, we bought a home in the Egleston Square part of Boston after living in the area for about a year. With so many of our friends so mobile and moving off to California every few years, with family spread out across the US (for me) and the UK (for Hannah), with different cultures, languages, religions and histories all jumbled together in an urban neighborhood like Egleston Square, sitting at the cross section of Jamaica Plain and Roxbury neighborhoods of Boston — we also wondered, “What exactly is community?”
Well, we decided to find out by acting, so that Spring we went door to door to ask our neighbors about the vacant lot at 195 Boylston Street – what was its history and what did people want to see happen there?
We heard that thirty years ago it had a house on it that had burned down and was vacant ever since. At one point neighborhood kids used to play baseball in the lot. Later it had been a memorial site for a shooting victim, and, ironically but not symbolically, a place were people had buried unwanted trash.
When we proposed cleaning it up and making it a useable space for neighbors, everyone we spoke with was delighted. Some even joined in to help.
Over the next two years a growing group of volunteers organized work days to clean up the lot, plant wild flowers, apple trees, raspberries, blueberries, red currants, and build raised beds for greens. Stonybrook Fine Arts donated a birdbath, complete with water slide and small chairs for sunbathing sparrows.
ACE, on Centre Street, donated gloves, shovels, yard waste bags, and other tools. City Feed donated coffee and fruit. And dozens of neighbors donated time, plants, ice cream, cold beers, rain barrels, composters, tools, a “peace pole”, and expertise in permaculture, soil remediation, fruit tree planting, carpentry, community organizing, painting, sculpture, Spanish translation, fundraising, strategic planning, and more.
Power to the people
After each workday, with the chaos of ten or twenty folks buzzing about, I always felt energized and grateful for what we accomplished together. I feel pride in my adopted neighborhood and connected to new friends. I especially feel joy at watching our garden grow.
In the winter a core group of us keeps the fire burning, planning the next season over weekend brunches filled with laughter and good humor.
Thus was born the Egleston Community Orchard, an ongoing experiment in planting the seeds of community and growing fruit.
This May, we marched from the Egleston Peace Garden to join in the Wake Up The Earth parade, and we were at the festival handing out wildflower packets, making new friends, and sharing inspiration and ideas with others.
Good things are happening in our neighborhood, and neighborhoods like it. Maybe there’s something to this Great Turning thing.
–Orion Kriegman, Transition Voice